A View to a Kill (1985) – 35 Years of Vintage Bond

Fancy a dance into the fire? Step on up…

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EDIT: Since posting this review, I attempted to rank all of the Bond films and could only settle on a top ten, and it turned out that A View to a Kill did indeed make it in there, so please disregard my assumption at the start of this piece…

The Bond film I’ve seen more than ANY OTHER is now 35 years old.

Let me clarify – I don’t think A View to a Kill is the best Bond film. It’s not in my top 5, and I don’t think it would make my top ten either. However, it is a Bond film that I hold very, very dear to my heart. I was born in 1981, so the tail-end of the Roger Moore era and the Dalton films are the Bond films that were the most current in my mind the earlier I think back to when I was a lil’ boy. Indeed, A View to a Kill was the first Bond film I remember being premiered on ITV, for example. I think it was on a Wednesday, maybe? Who knows. I didn’t watch it in full – all I saw was some of the pre-credits sequence, with Bond being pursued by Russian bad guys on skis. I wasn’t quite a Bondhead just yet.

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Let’s jump a few years later, to around 1990 most likely, and I was very much a total Bond nut, and this was the era where all I had to go on was those ITV television screenings. If you only had a Betamax player like me, then forget trying to save up to buy the VHS tapes. That’s why those Bank Holiday Monday screenings, or those Christmas showings, or the occasional Bond Season on Saturday nights were such a big deal. Back when a movie on the TV was a huge event. Okay, maybe film premieres weren’t making the front page of the TV Times anymore (like they did when Star Wars got its terrestrial debut), but they still were major things.

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Watching A View to a Kill in full was particularly exciting because it was the most recent of the Bond films I’d seen at the time, and for all the criticisms you can throw at it (which we’ll get into later), that didn’t really mean anything to a 9-10 year old boy who was just utterly gripped by the espionage, adventure, excitement, family-friendly violence, irresistible Bond charisma (man, I loved Roger Moore, and still do) and utterly dastardly villainy. One thing that stood out from the start and that I have never lost my enthusiasm for is Christopher Walken’s bad guy, the ‘leading French industrialist’ (according to Minister of Defence Frederick Gray) and ‘utter fucking nut’ (everybody else) Max Zorin, the kind of villain I absolutely adored to hate – with his striking peroxide-blonde looks, wicked grin, maniacal laugh, truly choice dialogue and smooth cruelty, he was an antagonist that was the perfect foil for Moore’s Bond. I love Bond villains – the very best are so good that it’s almost a shame when custom dictates they have to die. I imagine a parallel universe where Zorin makes it out alive and somehow Operation Main Strike (his attempt to flood Silicon Valley with a nuclear blast, wiping out the microchip market and leaving his brand of chips the only viable, purchasable option- yep, it’s Goldfinger for the 80s) becomes a hit. Walken’s Zorin proved such a hit with me that I remember being insanely excited that he was going to be in Batman Returns in 1992 – never mind that I was already giddy with pleasure over the casting of Michelle Pfieffer as Catwoman, my favourite screen villain was also going to be in it too! They’re just two reasons why Batman Returns is my favourite in the series, as well as one of my favourite films ever.

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Zorin’s villainy and the occasional cruel streak of violence (especially near the end) is evidence against the prosecution that insists A View to a Kill is total silliness. Don’t get me wrong – the humour is a constant presence, and when it works it’s wonderful, but sometimes (the dreadful insertion of a cover of The Beach Boys’ ‘California Girls’ in an otherwise exciting pre-credits scene, for example) it does indeed derail the momentum. However, we also get some pretty chilling scenes of brutality, such as when Bond’s lovable sidekick Sir Godfrey Tibett (a brilliant Patrick Macnee, with whom Moore has splendid chemistry) is inevitably killed in a car wash, or the poor KGB spy who tests the integrity of the underwater fans in one of Zorin’s hideouts the hard way, with pretty bloody results. Zorin’s dispatching of the weaselly San Francisco mayor (Daniel Benzali from Murder One, back when he had some hair, bless him) is truly wicked, with Zorin more-or-less detailing the process of the poor guy’s impending murder just before it happens. Although for all its cruelty, it’s still rather neat. Don’t you think?

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Then there’s the utterly vicious moment, which Roger Moore was most definitely not a fan of, when Zorin, out to tie up loose ends, exterminates his workforce with the help of his git henchman Scarpine (Patrick Bauchau, whom Dario Argento fans will recognise as the poor copper who had to break his own thumb to free his cuffed hand in Phenomena). Laughing like an absolute psycho, he happily guns down anyone and everyone, giggling like a schoolboy at these poor saps who happen to get electrocuted or drown. Now, you may be thinking – hey, these guys work for a master criminal hell bent on world domination, they deserve what they get. I point you towards the scene in Clerks re: the morality of those who chose to work on the Death Star for a better-expressed argument over this sort of thing. Anyway, this scene is shocking, and remains the ultimate example in all of film history of a bad guy who is so evil he’ll kill his own men at a whim, and yet the delirious, crazed malevolence of Walken’s performance makes it almost as much a twisted delight as much as it is disturbing.

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A little more obviously fun (though still pretty eye-opening as a child) was the bit when one of Zorin’s potential business partners, balking at the ‘outrageous terms’ he’s expected to adhere to, is permanently removed from Operation Main Strike’s future plans when falls down a trick staircase and out of a goddamn AIRSHIP (and there’s us thinking their meeting was on the ground all this time…) – the look Zorin and May Day (Grace Jones, more on her later) share, the little wink, the absolutely hilarious ‘so…does anyone else want to drop out?’ zinger…man, this villain is the best. Alongside Robert Davi’s amazing Sanchez in Licence to Kill, he’s my favourite Bond bad guy. Who doesn’t love the way he theatrically raises his arms up to herald the reveal of the miniature of Silicon Valley like that? Genius. And as we know, the secret to genius is intuitive improvisation, which is why I thought about writing this piece an hour ago and hope to publish it in the next hour.

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So yeah, I do think that for all its silliness, A View to a Kill does take its main threat seriously, and as a child I was utterly gripped by its escalating stakes. The spectacular final battle atop the Golden Gate Bridge could have done with a bit more of that old vertigo-inducing fear-factor to really give this scrap an extra edge, but it’s still the face-off the film promised and Walken truly defines the term ‘having the last laugh’. What an absolutely tremendous villain. The other big action scenes are pretty ludicrous at times, but I love them. Almost all of them are interjected with the odd silly moment – the fire engine pursuit that ends up exposing a canoodling couple after the truck wipes out the top half of their mobile home, the bloke trying to relax with an afternoon’s fishing in the middle of an earthquake, Bond gatecrashing a wedding party on a boat – but they’re still pretty exciting, even if for the most part we’re not watching Roger Moore, but a stuntman doing the hard work.

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Yes, there’s no two ways about it. Roger Moore was too old to play Bond at this point, but once you accept that he’s here, and that he ain’t getting any younger, he’s as utterly, utterly wonderful as ever. He and the character of Bond were a match made in 00-Heaven, and he has the smoothness, the seriousness, the lightness and of course, the charm, down perfectly. Making a character entirely your own after the monolithic presence of Sean Connery was surely impossible, and yet he did it. Because of him, the character of Bond became something truly malleable, and who could never, ever die. He’s my joint-fave Bond along with Dalton. They’re the Bonds I grew up with, and they kinda complement each other beautifully.

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As for the rest of the cast, well we had Grace Jones, that magnificent pop star who crossed over into the world of film in the 80s with always very interesting results. She held her own against Schwarzenegger in Conan the Destroyer nicely, and made for one of the most terrifyingly primal screen vampires of the decade in the fantastic Vamp, but as May Day she made probably her biggest impression, unsurprisingly given that she was the deputy villain in one of the biggest movies of its year. Jones is one hell of a striking looking star – she always looks sensational, and exudes an androgynous, compelling presence. Very Bowie. Imagine if David Bowie had accepted the role of Zorin as originally offered? I mean, the two of them together? That could have been truly something. But we got Walken, and I got no regrets, because he’s the best Zorin imaginable. May Day is the blunt instrument of Zorin’s schemes (that is, until he gets in on the act with a vengeance later on), killing off nearly all of Bond’s contacts with ruthless efficiency. She also gets a fantastic moment where her character jumps off the Eiffel Tower. That was the bit the TV ads always showed. She’s pretty scary, and okay, she becomes a goodie near the end which does takes the edge off her a bit, but hey, when your boyfriend tries to kill you, then of course you’re gonna switch sides! She also gets a love scene with Roger Moore, which turned out to be one of the more unexpected couplings in 80s cinema. Here she is slapping herself in the face, so delighted she is with her own evil.

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Patrick Macnee’s a total delight as Tibbett – he has a real warmth and great repartee with Moore, and his death never fails to bring me down. Lois Maxwell makes her final appearance as Moneypenny, but I like to think her incarnation ended up living the high life with all the money she won with the winning Pegasus ticket at the races near the start of the film. One of the film’s more debated elements is the presence of Tanya Roberts as Stacey Sutton, the geologist who spends an inordinate amount of time in peril, screaming ‘JAMES!!!’ at least 367 times and failing to notice airships creeping up behind her. She’s not one of the best Bond women in the series, and she has little to no agency, but at least Bond has respect for her, unlike the way he looks down on the series other serious doofus, Mary Goodnight in The Man with the Golden Gun, whom we were all meant to think was an idiot. Therefore, Stacey doesn’t really bother me that much. The other characters are a range of villains either subdued (Scarpine) or cartoonish (the monocle-wearing Nazi war criminal Mortner), there are gorgeous (if underused) women for Bond to flirt and occasionally bed (the hilariously named Jenny Flex, or Pola Ivanova, whose Tchaikovsky is well and truly tickled by the bubbles in her bath) and of course, there’s the always great Q (Desmond Llewellyn) with his peeping-tom robot dog. Robert Brown continues to make the character of M his own. It’s a fun roster.

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And A View to a Kill is fun. No doubt about it. It’s a bit ropey, a bit knackered, but often inspired and always entertaining. Tying it all together with the expected class is John Barry’s sensationally good score. Well, I say ‘class’ – he takes one of his best action cues and gives it the name of ‘Snow Job’ for fuck’s sake, so there’s always that, but it doesn’t stop that theme from becoming just as amazing as the one he devised for Octopussy‘s action scenes. That both cues are exclusive to their respective films makes them all the more special. The ‘Snow Job’ theme is so good that I’m more than happy when it reappears two more times in the film, each with their own variations, the final iteration for the final battle the most satisfying. The remaining themes are all full of intrigue, suspense, dread, excitement….Barry’s amazing. You all know that. It’s another incredible score, and he really gives us a truly, truly beautiful love theme for Bond and Stacey too. Romantic, seductive and dreamy, it was so wonderful that it also ended up as the B-side for the title song.

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Ah yes, the title song. One thing I’m sure of is that its theme song IS my favourite in the series. Notably, this was the last song performed by the classic line-up of Duran Duran, before they went off and did side projects and came back with some of the band missing, and boy did they go out on a high. An all time high, maybe? Nope. Wrong tune. Still, ‘A View to a Kill’ is a perfect, perfect pop song – preposterous lyrics, an almost unrelenting run of hooks and musical tics that make each second of its three-and-a-half length an absolute joy, and superb co-production by Chic’s Bernard Edwards. It is at once an amazing Bond theme, full of danger, sexiness and irresistible fun, and yet it is also an amazing pop song – this got to #2 in the UK and #1 in the US! It still gets played on the radio! Do I have one criticism? Man, I wish that fade-out lasted longer, after Le Bon stops singing…man, that’s a killer groove the band (and of course, Barry’s magnificent strings) have got going. It actually does last a bit longer in the film’s end credits, so there’s that to resort to.

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So there you have it. A View to a Kill is 35 years old today, and though it’s arguably the weakest of the 80s Bond films, John Glen gave us a great send-off for Moore and an adventure that, whilst it has is detractors, has just as many adoring fans who can’t get enough of it. For a brief spell in the mid-nineties, our home acquired cable TV and the Sky Movies channels, and one of those channels felt the need to repeat A View to a Kill constantly. And I felt the need to watch it every time. It was just a total tonic. Total escapism. Total entertainment. Because of those Sky screenings, it is, as I confessed at the start of this piece, the Bond film I’ve seen more than any other, and by some considerable margin. I’m quite proud of that.

And remember:

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Predator (1987)

El Demonio Que Hace Trofeos de los Hombres…
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Predator is 30 this year, and you know what? It’s still a remarkably entertaining, spectacularly impressive piece of work, and the first of two films from director John McTiernan that catapulted him to the very top of the action genre. Die Hard is arguably the more accomplished of the pair, but Predator is no mere warm-up. What’s particularly great is just how stunningly well made it is – compared to Arnie’s other films of this era like Commando, Raw Deal, The Running Man and Red Heat –  Predator stands out in the way it showcases a director with an expert handling of action, suspense, atmosphere and intensity. As much as I love Commando and The Running Man, their direction is merely solid, whereas McTiernan is clearly a filmmaker of exceptional skill and confidence.
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Just like Die Hard, it has an dazzling attention to craft. Rare is the Arnie film where you can sit back and truly admire how it is made. Its humid, oppressive South American jungle setting is utilised to remarkable effect – you really feel like you’re there in the bush, with no escape. The camera moves in and around this world and you’re totally immersed. The cinematography, lighting and sound design is first-rate. Also, there’s a claustrophobic, intense and very memorable, all-encompassing score by Alan Silvestri that is loaded with killer hooks.
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The plot is utterly straightforward: bad-ass Major ‘Dutch’ (Schwarzenegger) and his squadron of soldiers – all-round nice guy and explosives expert ‘Poncho’ (Richard Chaves), intense, razor-happy medic Mac (Bill Duke), stoic navigator Billy (Sonny Landham), behemoth gunner and self-proclaimed ‘sexual tyrannosaurus’ Blain (Jesse Ventura) and resident joker and communications operator Hawkins (Shane Black) – are sent by untrustworthy colonel Dillon (Carl Fuckin’ Weathers) to the jungle of what (outside of the film) is revealed to be the fictional South American country of Val Verde (as also depicted in Commando and Die Hard 2) to rescue a cabinet minister being held hostage by bad (read that as non-Americans) guys. Once the (failed) rescue is over and Dillon is revealed to have set Dutch’s team up on what could have been a suicide mission, the soldiers – plus Anna (Elpidia Carillo), a hostage from the raid – soon find themselves the target of an alien predator who appears to picking them off one at a time for sport and who can also camouflage itself within the trees. Totally outclassed, the team are swiftly dispatched until only Dutch remains, culminating in a battle between human and alien…
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Of course, if you’re reading this review, the odds are you already know the plot, making the previous paragraph a complete waste of time, but I loved summarising the story and I hope you enjoyed reading it. So let’s move on, shall we?
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Strangely, despite being what you could reasonably argue is the archetypal Schwarzenegger movie, Predator is a unique entry in the man’s classic era. Rare is the Arnie film where he is part of a team – admittedly, it’s a team that’s wiped out by the end, but he doesn’t stand head and shoulders ahead of everybody else. For the most part he’s one of the guys, even if he is in charge. His musclebound presence is more than matched by most of his colleagues. Also, this is the only film of his, barring Terminator 2, where his adversary poses a serious, lethal challenge. The final act of Predator is a fight to the death, and unlike the no-contest finales of Commando, Raw Deal, Total Recall, etc, you actually fear for his character’s life instead of curiously worrying about the bad guys. Also, has any Arnie film ended with him looking so beaten down and forlorn?
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Predator also eschews the traditional Arnie finale, which even at this early stage was becoming recognisable. You know, tool up, kill every motherfucker in the room, that sort of thing. In fact, you could argue that the typical shoot-em-up set-piece that would normally close every other Arnie film takes place a mere twenty or so minutes into Predator. The ambush, where Dutch and the guys lay waste to some cannon fodder in guiltily spectacular fashion could plausibly be the culmination of any other Arnie film. After that we enter new, unexplored territory. The first act, discovery of skinned bodies and quick Predator POV shots aside, plays out as a straight-up action movie. After that, the science-fiction and horror elements creep in. We’re not in Kansas anymore. This is new territory. Okay, if you take the film apart, you’ll recognise elements of Alien and Aliens, not to mention the plethora of post-Vietnam action films like Missing in Action and Rambo: First Blood, Part II, but really, it’s difficult to see the joins.
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For me, Predator was one of the first films that acted as an in-road to the horror genre, which I would have been too scared to approach at my early age back in the early nineties. Yes, it’s an Arnie film, yes it has enough firepower to level a small planet and yes, the machismo is through the roof, but when the second act kicks in, it’s essentially a slasher film with bells on. The Predator heat-vision POV material is straight out of the likes of Halloween and Friday the 13th – but by playing around this gimmick, by making the Predator’s vision an essential part of his character and something that can not only be used to its advantage but also to its detriment (see the brilliant “he couldn’t see me” scene), you end up with a truly novel spin on a horror staple that by the late eighties, had become very, very old indeed. True, the whole heat-vision element wasn’t entirely original – you can spot it in embryonic form in Michael Wadleigh’s 1981 horror Wolfen – but Predator ran with it and made it truly iconic.
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The violence is also rooted in the horror genre – we’re talking gore here, people. It still packs a punch – it knows when to show stuff and when not to. Some of the worst stuff is left to our imagination, some of it isn’t. Also, the Predator’s M.O is hinted at but not really explored – later films in the canon would tell us more, but ultimately it was all unnecessary. The original Predator is still the best because it pretty much tells us all we need to know, and frankly, it makes his rituals and methods all the scarier. The special effects – cute electrical malfunctioning glitches and one ropey ‘camouflage’ shot just before Hawkins is murdered aside – are still amazing, and Stan Winston’s design for the Predator is, hands down, the best monster the cinema has ever seen. The film brilliantly teases us with quick hints as to just what exactly this creature is – a brief shot here, a camouflaged outline there, a shot of a hand, a trail of blood, and even when we’re very late into the film, it’s still wearing a mask. When that mask comes off…. wow. I mean, what can you say? I mean, you can say ‘ugly motherfucker’ if you so wish, but the design on that face is frankly extraordinary. Utterly repulsive, utterly fascinating and with a grotesquely dazzling attention to detail. I totally believe that I’m looking at an alien, and Kevin Peter Hall’s physical performance adds a hell of a lot too. Incidentally, he also played Harry in the same year’s Bigfoot and the Hendersons (or Harry and the Hendersons outside of the UK).
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The action is also tremendously visceral. The film has an arsenal and knows how to use it. The raid on the enemy soldiers is just kill, kill, KILL. Who were those bad guys? It doesn’t matter, they’re bad guys. Just kill them. Shamefully, this scene is utterly thrilling, and we all get off on those shots of evil bastards getting shot up or blown up or stabbed up or whatnot. There’s also the ‘stick around’ dispatching, which, thanks to Dutch’s outright glee during this moment, remains one of Arnie’s most hilarious one-liners. The bit where Mac begins what ends up being an outright destruction of a small section of jungle is outrageously executed. Scenes of preparation and booby-trap setting are gripping (if ultimately hopeless – these guys don’t stand a chance), and the Predator’s kills are still sudden, gruesome and full of impact. One extraordinary bit follows the brief moment of quiet following Billy’s death, when Poncho is suddenly killed (notable for being the only death in the film with virtually no build-up or warning), Anna goes for the nearest gun, Dutch kicks it away and lets rip with a fucking ENORMOUS onslaught of firepower, yelling as he does so, Silvestri’s score banging away all the while and I, the viewer, gripped, pumped and breathless.
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Ah yes, the score. Continuing to move on from the synthesised joys of his Delta Force and Flight of the Navigator soundtracks, Silvestri proves to be a master of the orchestrated score, rivalling the splendour of his Back to the Future work and delivering a pounding, militaristic, (surprisingly) sad, chilling and outright frightening array of timeless themes. One of my favourite moments of sound and vision in this film is the camouflage scene. When Dutch thinks he’s found some rest time, after having survived two death-defying drops and a brief but intense swim, the Predator suddenly lands in the river behind him… Dutch crawls up through the mud and awaits what looks like certain doom, but thanks to the Predator’s compromised heat vision being unable to detect him through all that mud, he moves on and walks away. This for me is one of the most gripping moments in the film – true, the script spells it out a bit too clearly with Dutch’s ‘he couldn’t see me!’, a line that I’m surprised the Predator didn’t hear and swiftly react to – but the direction, chilling score and that eerie slow-motion shot of the Predator walking away (don’t know why, but it used to freak me out!) makes it, more than any other moment in Schwarzenegger’s films, a scene where I genuinely feared for his character’s life.
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As for the characters, well they’re two-dimensional for sure, but they’re vividly portrayed and acted with gusto – we all have our favourite Predator character, so who’s yours? Dutch is the obvious choice, but what about the jokey, doomed Hawkins? The bad motherfucker (but ultimately doomed) Blain? The ever-so-slightly-crazy but strangely sad-eyed (and doomed) Mac? The no-nonsense, doomed Everyman Poncho? The sixth-sense blessed but ultimately crazy and ultimately doomed Billy? The cynical and bastardly but nevertheless he-was-still-Apollo Creed (and just as doomed) Dillon? Or how about the utterly non-doomed Anna? Mine was Mac. I loved Mac. I felt awful for him. His death always seemed the cruellest. He never stood a chance did he? And he never did have him some fun tonight, did he? Poor sod.
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Ultimately, Predator is one of the most purely enjoyable, thrilling genre films of the 1980s – it’s a precision-tooled, perfectly executed and still outstanding experience – its ubiquity (how many times has it been on TV now?) hasn’t dulled its edges. Watching it on a big screen for its 30th anniversary was like seeing it for the first time all over again, and given that I’ve watched it three thousand times already, that’s no mean achievement.
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PS: The end credits are a wonderful/hilarious montage of the main players, all of them smiling and/or laughing, as if almost to reassure the viewer, that they’re not really dead, that everything is okay. The one of Sonny Landham as Billy is amazing.
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PSS: A few years back, my good friend Mark and I recorded a commentary to listen to whilst watching the film. You can listen to it/download for free by clicking on the relevant link to the right!
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Freejack (1992)

Freejack

This review of Freejack contains spoilers.

Mostly forgotten now, Geoff Murphy (Young Guns II)’s 1992 SF-action turkey Freejack got some attention back on its release for starring the one and only Mick Jagger. And as a twelve year old at the time the film was getting premiered on Sky’s movie channels, I was certainly interested in it because I thought the ads looked good, plus anything futuristic was always going to fascinate me after having been bowled over by Back to the Future Part II on the big screen a few years earlier. Unfortunately (or so I thought), those movie channels were out of our price range so I forgot about Freejack until it was premiered on BBC1 a few years later.

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By then I had become more aware that the film was meant to be… how can I put it… a bit shit, so I geared myself up for a bumpy ride of some sorts. I wasn’t disappointed. I mean, it’s awful, but from the moment Jagger’s bounty hunter/’bonejacker’ Victor Vacendak lifts up the future-visor on his head and says, in that unmistakable camp London accent of his, ‘Okay… let’s do it! I knew I was going to love this film.

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I had the foresight to tape Freejack at the time and made a point of rewatching it over and over again. Well, the good bits anyway. Bits of this film are really dull. But the good bits (and by that I mean the really bad bits) were pure comedy gold.

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Based on Robert Sheckley’s novel Immortality, Inc. (more on that later), Freejack is set in a future where advancements in technology have made it possible for a mind to be transplanted into another human body. Meanwhile in present-day 1992,  hot shot racing driver Alex Furlong (Emilio Estevez) is apparently killed mid-race when his car explodes in front of his adoring fans, his adoring girlfriend Julie (Rene Russo) and his adoring agent (David Johansen from the New York Dolls!). However, he’s not really dead because he re-materialises in the year 2009, surrounded by baddies in bacofoil who are ready to lobotomise him with a freaky laser. Luckily, Furlong escapes into a dystopia where people are either living at the top in sleek, plush surroundings or at the bottom where the only things to eat are rats or soup that’s so tasty that people are willing to kill you if you spill it all over them.

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Furlong realises that he’s now a ‘freejack’, a fugitive wanted for his BODY by a mystery party. Everyone he turns to for help either betrays him or slams the door in his face, except for a gun-toting nun, aka Mother Exposition, played by Amanda Plummer a few years before she threatened to execute every motherfuckin’ person in the Big Kahuna burger joint in Pulp Fiction. It turns out there’s a thing called the Spiritual Switchboard, which is a kind of cloud where human minds can be uploaded and then downloaded into a different body. Furlong’s body appears to be hot property because it comes from a time before something called the Ten Year Depression and isn’t contaminated with all the toxins, poisons and mutations that today’s underclass have been exposed to. Ah, but why doesn’t Furlong’s mystery party just take his pick of a body from 2009’s non-toxic cultural elite?

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Nope, it’s got to be Furlong, and the one who wants him is none other than Anthony Hopkins, who I forgot to mention in this review so far because he didn’t make much impression on the plot up until now. I’m sure he made an impression on viewers at the time – this was the first film he’d made after his award-winning performance in The Silence of the Lambs. This was not the first instance of an actor starring in a total turkey immediately after their Oscar win, and it wouldn’t be the last. It turns out his character in this – the mysterious and recently deceased tycoon McCandless who owns everything in the future and therefore was always untrustworthy – has fallen in love with Julie and of course the only way to win over someone who’s already attached is to possess the body of her boyfriend!

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The ending was clearly this was meant to be the Ultimate Trip, the kind that would leave Kubrick whimpering. Forget 2001, this was 2009, baby! This is where Furlong and Julie enter the Spiritual Switchboard, past loads of pixels, squares, time lapse skies and altering environments, culminating in a confrontation with McCandless, who seems to be able to smoke cigars in this virtual world – how does that work? – and who also suspiciously appears to have regretted his rash decision to try and nab Furlong’s body, offering to give everything to him, his riches, his job as an apology … but we know it’s all lies and stalling, as Vacendak shows up and Furlong still ends up undergoing the old switcheroo in a sequence of, and let’s be generous, rather funny special effects that includes a trippy flashback nightmare that, like all bad dream/hallucination sequences, features not one but two random bits of people laughing wickedly.

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Weasely deputy villain Michelette (Jonathan Banks), who doesn’t want McCandless in any form to survive as that would prevent him from inheriting the company, destroys the transfer device and we’re all left wondering which mind is currently occupying the disoriented body of Furlong. Michelette has the right idea – if whoever this guy is can correctly identify McCandless’ personal security clearance number then he’s obviously the real deal. The thing is, he actually can! It must be McCandless, god damned McCandless! Michelette shakes his head in despair, laughs to himself and attempts to go out in a blaze of glory before being instantly gunned down by Vacendak.

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So Furlong’s dead, right? No. He was just guessing the security number and Vacendak went along with it because, let’s face it, nobody likes Michelette. Furlong’s a bit of a twat about it though, not telling Julie what’s happened until we the viewer also got to find out, which was a bit mean of him, stringing her along like that for what must have felt like a long few minutes. So, Furlong assures Julie that everything’s going to be alright and off they drive. In fact, his specific final line is ‘Come on, buckle up, let’s see what this baby can do!’ which is a line almost as cheesy as the one in this clip:

Haul Ass to Lollapalooza!

Cue anthemic metal from whistle-friendly favourites the Scorpions and roll those credits. Terrible ending. Saying that ‘Hit Between the Eyes’ is a fun song. I remember hearing the guitar squeals over that old Sky ad for the movie and I remember thinking this film was going to be ace.

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So, what we have here is a film that was probably the last attempt to make Emilio Estevez an action star, but he’s just not well served by the direction or the script. Also, he just doesn’t convey enough of the overwhelmed mind-scramble of what it would be like to be in a new time. Even though the Estevez smirk is almost as good a thing as the Bruce Willis smirk, he’s just too cocky here for us to really care too much. We also have future Breaking Bad legend Jonathan Banks in the role of Michelette, and compared to the dry, been-there-done-that persona of Mike Ehrmentraut, his character here is entertainingly obnoxious, stressed-out and seemingly despised by everybody. The scene where Jagger crushes a Faberge egg and chucks it over to him whilst calling him an asshole is one of the funniest in the film. Banks and Hopkins get the play-it-straight-but-chew-the-scenery-at-the-same-time thing beautifully, which can’t be said for Estevez and Russo. There’s little to no chemistry between the two, which makes their potentially thrilling, 16-year overdue catch-up a little flat. To be fair, the tragedy of their extended separation isn’t helped by the bit just as Furlong ‘dies’ when the camera rapidly zooms into Julie’s face – it’s hilarious. I think even Warners/Morgan Creek realised it was funny as early as 1993, because Brad Pitt’s waster character in True Romance is watching that exact same moment on the telly.

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But never mind that.

Let’s talk about Mick Jagger.

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Now I’m a huge Rolling Stones fan. I love their sixties stuff, I love their seventies stuff and I even like some of their eighties stuff. And I love Mick Jagger. What a frontman. I mean, there’s precious few like him. Yet there’s always been something kind of hilarious about him too. It’s that preening, camp, lip-smacking sense of mischief, right there even from the start. Like David Bowie, Nicolas Roeg found something intrinsically cinematic about him and both of them enjoyed their best big-screen performances under his wing. However, unlike Bowie, Jagger didn’t really have much of a film career afterwards. I’m not saying Bowie was a screen legend, but he also had The Hunger, Labyrinth and The Prestige among others under his belt, whereas Jagger had few other roles of note. There was Ned Kelly, and then there was Freejack.

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I love Jagger in this film – he can’t really act but he does his individual thing and he does it very entertainingly. As I’ve already mentioned, his very first line is a classic of camp delivery, but pretty much everything he says here has this kind of delightful amusement to it. How the hell do nothing lines like ‘power it up’ and ‘he’s good’, both uttered by him in the opening race sequence, end up being so gigglesome? It’s all in the execution. His best extended sequence outside of the Faberge bit is the chase scene involving the ugliest and reddest tank in history. Furlong has escaped in a car/champagne crate and Vacendak and crew are in hot pursuit. Using some kind of bluetooth connection to tap into Furlong’s car, he starts pestering his quarry throughout the car chase, and even though Furlong tries to hang up on him (leading Vacendak to hilariously exclaim ‘Oh no! I hate the dark!’) he just won’t go away. He laughs like a madman, delivers lines like ‘you can’t get rid of me that easily!’ ‘I want him without a scccraaatch!’ and ‘the brake pedal’s the one on the right’ and of course ‘DON’T DO IT!!!!’ with the kind of relish someone who actually gets paid a lot of money to say this stuff does.

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So what about the book that Freejack was based on? I wasn’t expecting Robert Sheckley’s 1958 Immortality, Inc. to be so entertaining, but it really is a proper tear-through ride of a novel that is crammed with ideas and twists. Okay, the female characters get short shrift, but for the most part it’s great. To be honest, to adapt it faithfully might have made for a pretty crammed feature-length film, but compromises could nevertheless have been made and we could have got a striking, spectacular SF experience.

When you come down to it, Freejack is mostly a lot of chases, fights and shoot outs, only really going into overdrive (some would say for the worse) for its finale. Immortality, Inc. has a lot more fun delving into the future world that Thomas Blaine (not Alex Furlong) has found himself in. At first his arrival into the future is exploited as a publicity gimmick for the Rex Corporation (there’s no McCandless here) who want to show him off as the world’s first person to be snatched from the past and put in a new body, but is soon forgotten by the media and even his own captors once the novelty’s worn off. Instead of being a target for capture, Blaine is more or less stranded in the future in a new body and with no way to make a living… I don’t want to spoil the rest of the novel as it’s a revelation for those only aware of Freejack, but if you do get round to reading it you’ll be dazzled by how much stuff there is here. Then you think about all that could have been accomplished in adapting this novel and you see what was actually made and released in 1992 and it beggars belief. Freejack essentially adapts a tiny portion of the story – the concept of an old mind occupying a younger body and the presence of the Spiritual Switchboard – and scraps the rest. I mean, there were suicide booths in the novel! Why would you not put something like that in the film? There’s merely a small electronic billboard for ‘suicide assistance’ that you can just about make out in a couple of shots. At least Futurama recognised a great (if fucked-up) SF idea when it saw one. It’s frankly insulting to see what they’ve done to the novel. If there are better examples of just how dumb the worst of Hollywood can be in adapting other mediums, then please let me know.

Of course, there was nothing in Immortality, Inc. that was as funny as the shot below, so both have their own individual merits, I suppose.

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PS: Amazingly, one of the co-writers is Dan Gilroy, who would end up directing the terrific Nightcrawler!

PSS: Some of the main characters have alliterative names, like Victor Vacendak and Mark Michelette. Those that don’t are nonetheless played by actors with alliterative names, like Emilio Estevez and Rene Russo. The only exception is Anthony Hopkins as Ian McCandless, but given he had just won an Oscar, I suppose he could get away with it.

PSSS: two non-Jagger highlights from the tank chase scene to mention – the music by Trevor Jones here is really enjoyable, great chase music. And secondly, yes that is a sample of James Brown screaming as a pedestrian jumps out of the way. There’s a few of these in this film, but it wasn’t the first action romp to feature a Brown sample. Raw Deal did it too, spectacularly. Hit me!

PSSSS: Here’s a shot of David Johansen, simply because there hasn’t been one yet in this review.

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Samurai Cop (1991)

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Please note that none of the imagery in the above poster for Samurai Cop actually takes place in the film itself.

An astoundingly inept action thriller that’s become quite the cult favourite for how jaw-droppingly awful it is. From the sub-Streets of Rage title music onwards, there is absolutely nothing in this film that is intentionally worthwhile. Join our two McBain wannabes Joe and Frank as they take on the killer from Maniac Cop and his endless parade of disposable henchmen! Prepare your flabber to be well and truly gasted at the horrors to follow!!

Where to start?

  • Well, the dialogue appears to have been recorded with the cheapest mics available. When they do actually manage to pick up the actors’ voices, it’s usually muffled and hissy – I think there was some fluff on the mic.
  • The shooting script must have got mixed up in the post – various scenes appear to jump back and forth throughout the daytime, making it look as though the sun in this film’s world goes up and down like a fucking yo-yo.
  • The editing is horrendous – after watching this you realise that most films do indeed get the fundamentals right to the point where you sort of forget you’re watching a film. In Samurai Cop the rhythm is totally off – shots begin too early or too late, the music stops and starts intermittently and the whole thing feels like a hastily put together rough cut. The most notorious example is when the police chief gives our two ‘heroes’ a load of shit and then sits back down in his chair, after which the camera keeps rolling and the actor just starts laughing.
  • In addition to the above, the fight scenes are incompetently staged – none of the actors appear to be properly interacting with each other. Their reaction time to impending danger is so off that it’s no wonder they keep getting killed. Death throes are sometimes accompanied with unconvincing splats of blood (in one case, paintball has clearly contributed to a character’s death) but more often than not with no squibs or gore whatsoever, so all we see is a lot of writhing around with no apparent physical trauma.
  • There are three ‘love’ scenes that are some of the most inert and unerotic ever staged for a film. We’re talking fast-forward fodder that’s on the level of The Room here, people.
  • The acting is hopelessly stilted and off-key. The director seems to be insisting that when not speaking, his actors must be posing awkwardly, either by leaning on banisters or perching one of their legs on steps or chairs to try and look casual.
  • The dialogue is very poor – the intentionally comic scenes (the camp restaurant waiter, the nods to the fact that Frank is black, the ‘would you like to fuck me?’ bit) feel very awkward, while the overheated confrontation scenes are hilariously stilted. The best example of this is Joe’s threat to the criminals at the dinner table.
  • The plot is complete bobbins – plot holes, illogical behaviour, unrealistic physical attraction between characters… it’s all here. My favourite is when Frank protests to Joe about the killing of the big bad guy (‘stop it, you’re a cop!’) even though the both of them have murdered at least a thousand criminals over the last 90 minutes. Bit late to develop a conscience there, mate.
  • This film features the most passionless, bored delivery of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song in cinema history.

Of course, I really enjoyed this film for the most part – there are plenty of dull bits but there are also loads of moments to laugh yourself silly to. Whether its Joe and Frank’s mild irritation at running over a bad guy with their car (‘oh, man!’, indeed), Matt Hannon’s occasional (and obvious) dependence on a wig (he had to come back for additional filming after he’d slashed his locks) or the little mad touches (why do the bad guys have a Defender arcade cabinet in their flat?) – it’s a proper chuckle. It’s also one of the worst films ever made.

Oh, and by the way, here’s some choice dialogue snippets:

LAWYER: ‘I’ll see you in court!’
POLICE CHIEF: ‘You motherfucker, I’ll see you in hell!’

and:

JOE to FRANK: [on discovering a mid-level bad guy smooching naked with his girlfriend] ‘Looks like this is his last FUCK!’

MULLETED VILLAIN: ‘I want his head on this piano!’
MANIAC COP: ‘I will bring you his head, and I will place it on this piano.’